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Thinking about splitting up? Divorce advice for midlife

When you're contemplating divorce, it's vital to think ahead. This dating advice from someone who's done it will help.
portrait of Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze. Picture: Julia Boggio

Are you thinking about getting a divorce? It’s a difficult question involving a lot of factors. As divorces go, mine was not too bad. My ex and I decided on the finances between ourselves before engaging solicitors, we agreed the schedule for the children and we remain friendly, even planning family activities every month or so.

But the process can be grueling. Here, my top tips – as someone who’s gone through it – before and during the process to help you come out the other side.

1. Figure out if you can afford it

One of the most shocking moments for me when I started contemplating life outside my marriage was a question a solicitor asked me first: “Can you afford to divorce?”

I was shocked. After all, I was there because I couldn’t imagine continuing in my marriage. But she explained, a lot of people have so many assets tied up together, they’re underwater on their house/houses, they have other financial commitments to meet. Divorce requires dividing the assets. Can you afford living separately and still look after everything, including children?

It’s a sobering thought but an important one. Divorce – I’ve discovered – is about realities, not concepts like freedom. On top of that, you have to be able to afford court fees, filings and ultimately, solicitors. It will likely cost more than you think so build in a bit of flex.

2. Find the right solicitor

The “right” solicitor for your divorce isn’t just a killer, one who can find your soon-to-be-ex’s jugular or, alternatively, one who can midwife a calm extrication. You need one who is in your price range (obviously). It’s good to find a team that includes an experienced senior solicitor who keeps things on track while a more affordable junior drafts the documents. But you can also find experts that match your particular situation – whether it’s dealing with second houses in the UK or abroad, stepchildren, addiction, assets structured in a particular way, a tax status in another country. Shop around for the right counsel to make sure they really understand where you’re coming from.

3. Get your financial ducks in a row

Before going to any legal professional, assess your situation. Know how much money you have and where it is. Reacquaint yourself with the terms of your mortgage, joint accounts, your access to money. Find out as much as you can about your partner’s finances too. Be prepared for meetings or you’ll waste your initial consultation being told what kind of paperwork you need to amass.

4. Remember your solicitor is not your therapist

Let’s face it, it feels good to unload to your legal expert about what your partner has done, how badly you’ve been treated, what you deserve. Save your breath. While it’s important to give them the full picture, especially when it comes to controlling behaviour, abuse, assault, stalking etc., the  stories about how he never once scraped a plate after dinner are better left to evenings with your girlfriends or good sessions with your shrink. Don’t waste your money and their time complaining. You’re building a legal case with a professional, not looking for sympathy.

5. Expect families to circle the wagons

This is the sad bit. It doesn’t matter how nice or welcoming your respective families are. It doesn’t matter how amicable you’re trying to make the arrangements. At some point family will close ranks because this is what families do. It’s essential. It makes each of you feel cared for and signals loyalty. It might last forever or it might only be temporary. Try not to get your feelings hurt about it. Your relationship with your in-laws is not necessarily over but the bar has been reset.

6. Say goodbye to some friends

What a bummer. Some of your joint friends will be lovely and supportive. But there will be others who get angry and take sides. If your partner feels hard done by, old friends may hear stories that leave them feeling justified spreading rumours or snubbing you in public. One person whom I considered a good friend refused to shake my hand afterward. Console yourself with this: No one else really knows what goes on inside a marriage. Smart people realise that and act accordingly.

7. Grow thicker skin

This is a hard one. But you could be coping with upset children, combative or at least strained relations with your partner, other affected family members, friends who are angry with you or angry on your behalf and your own emotions. You’ll need to get through it all.

8. Focus on what’s ahead

This is a difficult period and – I’ll level with you – it will last a while. Think about where you eventually want to be because you’re laying the groundwork now. Imagine what’s sensible and sustainable for yourself, your partner and your children and aim for that.

9. Be prepared to fight your corner

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard friends say that at one point they were ready to give in on a money or visitation issue because they were simply tired of fighting. It’s a terrible position to be in, but gather your forces, talk to friends and family who can bolster you up and stick to your guns. You’ve sketched out your needs (see number 8) when things were cooler and less fraught. A reasonable negotiation can always be productive and satisfactory for both sides. But don’t let sadness and tiredness determine important elements of your divorce arrangements.

10. Get everything in writing

When it starts out, everyone says, “Let’s keep it amicable.” Everyone will play nice. Once you’re not living together and juggling separate lives and finances, things can change. Ad hoc arrangements for, say, the children’s Easter half-term or when and how to sell the house will get a lot less friendly when you both have new partners and possibly stepchildren or a new baby to think about. The good news is, clear written arrangements prevent arguments in the future. All you have to do is consult your agreement.

Ultimately getting divorce is about moving on and improving your life and that of any children. It’s not fun but it can mean the hopeful beginning of a new life.

Jennifer Howze



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